New Court of Appeal Decision Potentially Helpful To Employers Opposing Class Certification Of Wage And Hour Claims

Today, in Faulkinburty v. Boyd & Associates, Inc., the California Court of Appeal issued a decision that might prove helpful to employers opposing motions for class certification of wage and hour claims.  The court reiterated that it is the plaintiff(s)' burden to show his or her claims are susceptible to common proof (i.e. proof of alleged liability common to all of the purported class members) and that a defendant employer "'may defeat class certification by showing that an affirmative defense would raise issues specific to each potential class member and that the issues presented by that defense predominate over common issues.'"

In general, non-exempt employees must be provided at least one unpaid, duty-free meal period of at least 30 minutes each workday.  An additional unpaid, duty-free meal period may be required if an employee works more than 10 hours in a workday. The Industrial Welfare Commission wage orders permit an employer to instead provide a paid on-duty meal period "when the nature of the work prevents an employee from being relieved of all duty and when by written agreement between the parties an on-the-job meal period is agreed to."

The plaintiffs in the case were employed as security guards who worked at numerous different locations. They alleged, among other things, that the employer improperly required them to agree to paid on-duty meal periods, contending that the nature of their work did not prevent them from being relieved of all duty (i.e., that they should have been provided unpaid, duty-free meal periods instead of paid, on-duty meal periods).  The plaintiffs alleged also that they were not authorized and permitted to take all required rest periods and that the employer improperly calculated their overtime rates of pay. 

The trial court denied class certification, finding that common issues of law and fact did not predominate over individualized issues. 

The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's decision as to plaintiffs' meal period claims and as to plaintiffs' rest period claims, holding that the trial court correctly applied the law as to those claims and holding that the trial court's rulings as to those claims were supported by substantial evidence. 

The Court of Appeal was persuaded that the evidence in the record sufficiently showed that common issues of law and fact would not predominate over individual issues because there was no common proof showing whether or not the requirements for a valid on-duty meal period were or were not satisfied as to any particular security guard employee. As to the plaintiffs' rest period claim, the Court of Appeal was persuaded that the declarations the employer submitted by employees stating they were authorized and permitted to take all required rest periods was substantial evidence supporting the trial court's conclusion that common issues of law and fact did not predominate over individualized issues because those declarations showed a lack of common proof as to whether the security guard employees were or were not authorized and and permitted to take all required meal periods. 

However, the Court of Appeal reversed the trial court's denial of class certification of plaintiff's claim that the employer incorrectly calculated the applicable overtime rates of pay because its calculations did not include annual bonus payments and other forms of alleged compensation provided to the security guard employees. The Court of Appeal held that claim was susceptible to common proof because the claim could be determined based on the employer's payroll records. In other words, the employer either correctly calculated the rate of overtime pay or it did not. This part of the decision is still potentially helpful to employers because the Court of Appeal emphasized that the claim should have been certified because it was susceptible to common proof, and we believe many common wage and hour claims are in fact not susceptible to common proof.

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